Tommie Frazier

Greatest Huskers, By the Numbers: 19 – 10 (T)

This is my countdown of the greatest Nebraska Cornhuskers to wear each jersey number, 1-99.  For background on the project, click here.  We’re going to start at #99 and work our way down to #1.  For each number, I’ll list the best player to wear that number, some of the other memorable Huskers to don that jersey, as well as a personal favorite of mine.

As we near the home stretch, we get into the teens.  Lots of defensive backs, I-Backs, and as one might expect, lots and lots of quarterbacks, including one of the most famous players in school history.  A guy so popular and beloved, fans still wear his #15 jersey years after he graduated:  Beau Davis.


Best Player:  Kyle Larson, Punter, 2000 – 2003
Other notables:  None
Personal Favorite:  John Klem, Split End, 1999 – 2002

Comments:  The pride of tiny Funk, Nebraska, Larson was one of the greatest punters in school history.  A three year starter, Larson averaged over 43 yards per punt, which put him second all time at Nebraska, with 30% of his kicks going over 50 yards.

As a senior, Larson set the school record for yards per punt (45.12), was a consensus All Big XII pick, an All-American, and one of three finalists for the Ray Guy Award, which is given to the nation’s best punter.

When you see that John Klem was a “split end”, you would likely assume that he was a receiver.  Maybe he was a “possession” guy or a maybe a deep threat, but certainly a guy who would catch his fair share of passes.  John Klem played in, by my rough count, 32 games at Nebraska over his four seasons.  He caught one pass.  For nine yards.  In the fourth quarter of a non-conference game with Nebraska up by 45.

Frankly, this is what makes me love John Klem.

Klem was a blocker.  Period.  With apologies to recent standouts like Quincy Enunwa, Niles Paul, and Kenny Bell, Klem is one of the best blocking receivers to ever play at Nebraska.  Part of the reason is there was little deception in his game.  My buddy Husker Luke figured it out early on:  when Klem is on the field, it is going to be a run.  Even if it’s 3rd and 9, if Klem was out there, it was likely going to be a run.

How effective of a blocker was John Klem?  Consider this from his junior season (2001):  He played major minutes in Nebraska’s first 11 games, and NU was undefeated.  After a torn ACL against K State knocked him out for the remainder of the season, Nebraska lost their final two games by a combined 99-50.  I’m not saying the 2001 team wins a national championship with a healthy John Klem, but it would have helped.


Best Player:  Jon Bostick, Split End, 1989 – 1991
Other notables:  Jim Anderson, Quincy Enunwa
Personal Favorite:  Brook Berringer, Quarterback, 1992 – 1995

Comments: Jon Bostick was one of the finest split ends Nebraska had in the ten years before the champion era began.  He earned All Big 8 honors as a senior, working opposite of talented tight end Johnny Mitchell, but Bostick was more than just some guy who benefited from relaxed coverages.

I love the story on this page that talks about how Bostick had to be pulled out of a redshirt four games into the 1989 season.  In his first game (against Oregon State), his first catch goes for a 60 yard TD.  Bostick followed that up with 176 yard and four TDs in his next two games.

I will always have a great fondness and appreciation for Brook Berringer’s career. He was easily the finest passing quarterback at Nebraska in the twenty-five years between Dave Humm and Zac Taylor, but he was also deceptively good running the option. Sure, I always thought Brook looked a little stiff on his options, but compared with Tommie Frazier, anybody is going to look less than fluid.

I sometimes wonder if Brook gets enough credit for the role he played on the 1994 championship team – not only running the team while Frazier battled blood clots, but also for keeping Nebraska within striking distance in the Orange Bowl so Frazier and Cory Schlesinger could do their thing.

I was a student at UNL when Berringer died, just a few weeks before the NFL draft, and his passing really shook me. It was sobering to realize that a guy who seemingly had everything (talent, brains, looks, a desire to give back) could be taken far too soon. I commend the University for that they’ve done to honor Brook’s memory and his legacy.



Best Player:  Reggie Cooper, Safety, 1987 – 1990
Other notables:  Ciante Evans, Dan Hadenfeldt
Personal Favorite:  Todd Peterson, Wide Receiver, 2004 – 2008

Comments:  Reggie Cooper may have been a player ahead of his time. At 6’3″ and 210 pounds, he was a man among boys in the defensive backfield. Cooper used that size and speed to earn four letters, All Big 8 honors twice, honorable mention All-America twice, and finish as the leading tackler among defensive backs. The game may have changed since Cooper’s day, but there will always be room for a guy like him.

Todd Peterson also had prototypical size at his position. As a 6’4″, 215 pound wide receiver, he gave his quarterbacks a big target and sure hands. And while Peterson had an excellent career (top five in school history in receptions and receiving yards), he’s a personal favorite for how he did it.

Peterson walked on to Nebraska in 2004, the same year that new coach Bill Callahan infamously took an axe to the storied walk-on program – choosing to pursue highly touted recruits over in-state guys from Class C-1 schools.

But Peterson’s talent was too much to deny. He made it on the field as a redshirt freshman, and was starting by the end of the season. From there, he became a reliable presence and kept several three and four star recruits on the bench. Additionally, Peterson was equally strong in the classroom, and was a leader in community involvement.


Best Player:  Maurice Purify, Wide Receiver, 2006 – 2007
Other notables:  None
Personal Favorite: 
Mike Stuntz, Quarterback/Wingback/Safety, 2001 – 2005

Comments:  Sixteen is the final number in the countdown to have never produced a first team all conference selection, although it certainly seemed like Maurice Purify would be the one to break that barrier (he was second team All Big 12 as a junior in 1996).

Purify was big, fast, and strong. Arguably, he was one of the most physically gifted receivers Nebraska has ever had. Purify excelled in deep routes, short routes, and his specialty: the jump ball. His 9 yard catch of a Zac Taylor lob at Texas A&M capped a huge comeback and helped the Huskers win the Big XII North division crown in 2006.

I’ve always been fascinated by the guys who participate in the biggest of plays on the biggest of stages. Is it foundation for a strong career, or is it a pinnacle that is never approached again? Mike Stuntz is a good example of the latter.

Recruited as a quarterback, he made it on the field as a true freshman in 2001. As a wingback, he threw one of the most famous passes in school history: Black 41 Flash Reverse to Heisman Trophy winner Erich Crouch. In 2002, he moved back to quarterback, he was 10-25 passing for 100 yards.

From there, Stuntz bounced over to defense seeing mop-up and special teams duty. Aside from Black 41 Flash Reverse, his biggest claim to fame was dating the “hot tutor” from the Tommy Lee Goes to College “reality” show.


Best Player:  Tommie Frazier, Quarterback, 1992 – 1995
Other notables:  Bob Churchich, Alfonzo Dennard, Vince Ferragamo
Personal Favorite: 

Comments:  If I were to call Tommie Frazier the greatest Husker player in the last 50 years would you disagree?  What about the greatest of all time?  Still no?  Certainly you could make a case for a handful of other guys (the three Heisman winners, Suh, Bobby Reynolds, or Train Wreck Novak), right?  Or you could try to break down Tommie by citing his stats – especially his career completion percentage of 49.5%.  But Touchdown Tommie Fraz-ah would still win.

Because that’s what Tommie Frazier did.

He won.

A Big 8 best 33-3 as a starter – a mark that would have been even higher if he didn’t miss seven games due to blood clots – you knew that when #15 went under center, or more appropriately, started running the triple option, that Nebraska was going to win.  Oh those option plays.  For my money, Tommie’s position coach Turner Gill is the only one who came close to matching Frazier’s mastery of Osborne’s signature play.  Frazier had a true gift for knowing when to pitch or when to keep as he glided down the field.

As good as Frazier was in regular games, he was even better in bowl games.  True, his bowl record sits at 2-2, but consider that his first bowl loss (in the 1993 Orange Bowl) was as a true freshman.  The blame for the second bowl loss could be placed on a number of people (i.e. some dubious missed calls, two defensive penalties that allowed FSU to score with 1:16 left, or the right leg of Byron Bennett), but there is no way Frazier could be blamed for giving his team every chance to win a National Championship.

From there, Frazier’s big game dominance took off.  It took most of the first quarter of the 1994 Orange Bowl to shake off, but Frazier all but willed Nebraska to Tom Osborne’s first National Championship.  In 1995, he was even better.  Frazier used and abused Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators, racking up 199 rushing yards and two touchdowns, including one play known simply as The Run.

The only regret I have about Tommie Frazier’s career is that he played in an era where Heisman voters viewed the award not as it should be (college football’s most outstanding player), but as “who will have the best NFL career”?  This led to one of the greatest injustices of the 20th Century as Eddie George stole Tommie Frazier’s Heisman.


Best Player:  Jerry Tagge, Quarterback, 1969 – 1971
Other notables: Dennis Claridge, Gerry Gdowski, Barron Miles,
Personal Favorite: 
Barron Miles, Cornerback, 1992 – 1994

Comments:  Before there was Tommie, there was Jerry.  Jerry Tagge was the quarterback on the first two National Championship teams in school history (1970 and 1971).  Like Frazier, all Tagge did was win, compiling a stellar record as a starting quarterback, and playing his best games on the biggest stages.  In the 1971 Orange Bowl against LSU, Tagge was an impressive 12 of 15 passing against one of the nation’s best defenses.  It was his QB sneak from the one yard line that clinched the championship.

Tagge earned All Big 8 and All-America honors after the 1971 season, and finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting.  Although his accomplishments may have been overshadowed by those of Frazier and other famous Husker QBs, Tagge should be remembered for setting the standard of excellence.

Pure and simple, Barron Miles was a play maker.  An excellent cornerback, Miles had a knack for the ball and always seemed in position to make a big play.  Over his career, he had seven blocked kicks, 19 pass break ups (including six in one game) and numerous “wow” moments.  My favorite Baron Miles moment was in 1993 at Oklahoma State.  The Cowboys were punting from their own end zone when Miles came streaking in for the block.  He ended up catching the ball just off the foot of the punter and rolling onto the turf with a momentum shifting touchdown.


Best Player:  Carlos Polk, Linebacker, 1997 – 2000
Other notables:  Zac Taylor
Personal Favorite: 

Comments:  From the mid 80s through the mid 90s, the best Blackshirts were usually lined up at outside linebacker/rush end. The four-year career of Carlos Polk marked a shift, as the best Blackshirt was usually the guy anchoring the middle linebacker position. I’m talking about guys like Polk, Barrett Ruud, Lavonte David, and to a lesser extent Phillip Dillard, Steve Octavien, and even another #13 from a defensively challenged era: Corey McKeon.

But let’s focus on Polk, a bruiser with deceptive speed and a strong nose for the football. A four-year contributor, he was a two time All Big XII performer, and an anchor on one of the finest defenses in school history (1999). He was named first team All-America in his senior season.


Best Player:  Turner Gill, Quarterback, 1981 – 1983
Other notables:  Dave Humm, Jarvis Redwine
Personal Favorite: 

Comments:  Keep in mind, we’re only here to talk about Gill’s playing career, which is kind of too bad considering Gill coached three of the finest quarterbacks in school history (Frazier, Scott Frost, and Eric Crouch) while being a valued lieutenant to both Osborne and Frank Solich, before taking Buffalo from laughingstock to conference champion. Of course, Gill is not short of accomplishments as a player.

Let’s start with the biggest one: he had the keys to one of the greatest offenses in NCAA history and operated it with the skill and precision of a race car driver. Take a moment to truly appreciate this: The 1983 Huskers, quarterbacked by Turner Gill, averaged 52 points and almost 550 yards of offense per game. Gill became the first Husker quarterback to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season. His greatness stretched back to his first start when he set a (then) school record with four touchdown passes in a game against Colorado.

Gill was named All Big 8 three times, finished fourth in the 1983 Heisman Trophy vote.


Best Player:  Matt Herian, Tight End, 2002 – 2006
Other notables:  None
Personal Favorite: 
Matt Turman, Quarterback, 1993 – 1996

Comments:  Matt Herian was another player ahead of his time. The guy with the tight end size and wide receiver hands and speed, today’s NFL is full of guys who have the same skill set as Herian.

He exploded onto the scene as a freshman, catching seven passes for 301 yards (an absolutely ridiculous 43 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. Yes, you read the correctly: 57% of his freshman year receptions went for touchdowns.

Unfortunately, Herian is also a starter on all-time “What Could Have Been” team. During his junior season in 2004, the first in Bill Callahan’s West Coast Offense, Herian was a putting together another excellent season when he suffered a nasty leg injury against Mizzou. Herian sat out the entire 2005 season, and came back for the 2006 campaign, but he just wasn’t the same player. I believe the sky would have been the limit for a healthy Herian.

To fully appreciate Matt Turman, we must put ourselves in his shoes the morning of October 15, 1994.  The greatest player in school history (Frazier) is out.  His backup, a legitimate NFL prospect (Berringer) is out too.  That leaves you, a 185 pound walk on from a Class C school to try to guide your 6-0,#2 ranked team to victory at #16 Kansas State, a team that had a very stout defense.  Granted, his moment of greatness consisted mostly of handing the ball to Lawrence Phillips and getting out the way, but still, Matt Turman – a.k.a. The Turmanator – may be the least likely guy to ever lead a championship-level team to victory.


Best Player:  Bret Clark, Safety, 1981 – 1984
Other notables:  Charles Fryar, Keithen McCant, Mike Minter
Personal Favorite: 
Roy Helu, Jr., I-Back, 2007 – 2010

Comments:  Bret Clark was an excellent safety for Tom Osborne’s early 80s teams.  Clark had a great talent for breaking up passes, tying the school record for pass break ups (8) in his sophomore and senior seasons.  He finished his NU career holding the school record for PBU.  During his senior season, Clark led the team in pass break ups, interceptions, and fumbles recovered.  A two-time All Big 8 player, Clark also earned All-America honors as a senior.

Roy Helu, Jr. is one of my favorite I-Backs from the last 20 years.  He combined speed, power, vision, and a love for hurdling over defenders to become one of the most vaunted rushers in school history.  Two memories of Helu stand out:  2009 at Kansas, Nebraska is in a dogfight until the Huskers decide to put the game on Helu’s shoulders.  Despite several nagging injuries, Helu picked up 85 yards and two critical touchdowns on Nebraska’s final two drives.

And then there is his masterpiece:  2010 versus Missouri.  On NU’s first play, Helu went 66 yards for a touchdown.  Later in one of the most complete quarters of football Nebraska has ever played, Helu went for a career long 73 yard TD run.  When it was all said and done, Helu had 307 rushing yards (and 317 all-purpose) breaking Calvin Jones’s twenty year old record of 294.  It was one of the most dominating performances I’ve had the pleasure to watch at Memorial Stadium.

Previous:  29 – 20

Next:  9 – 1


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(Author’s note:  Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post?  Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge?  Like clicking on links?  These questions are all answered here.)

The Legacy of Taylor Martinez

Back in August, I kept hearing about how the 2013 season would “define Taylor Martinez’s legacy”.

At the time, I thought that statement was a hot load of crap.

After three full seasons with Taylor Martinez as Nebraska’s quarterback, his “legacy” was already defined.  The definition of that legacy all depends on how you view Martinez.

If you are optimistic on Martinez, you view him as one of the most dynamic and explosive quarterbacks in school history, somebody who owns nearly every school record a quarterback can own.

If you are pessimistic on Martinez, you view him as a frustratingly inconsistent turnover machine, who never won a championship or bowl game.

Here’s the thing – both of those perspectives are correct.  I get it:  there is a certain subset of the fan base who will never forgive Martinez for this actions during (and after) the 2010 Texas A&M game.  There are fans who will never fully support a player who quits and rejoins the team (allegedly), no matter how talented and successful he is (see also:  Crouch, Eric).  I don’t subscribe to that theory, but I understand where those people are coming from.

With injuries having cut his senior season short, we can look back on his career; his triumphs and tragedies, and really dig into what made Taylor Martinez the player that rewrote the record book while alienating a section of a fan base that loves to love their quarterbacks.

*   *   *

Taylor Martinez’s legacy can be summarized in six words.

Wow.  I will remember Martinez for the highlight reel of “wow” moments.  The plays where his speed and athleticism turned disaster into touchdowns.  I’m talking about 80 yard runs against Washington and Kansas State, his run against UCLA, the mad scramble against Wisconsin.  But there was more than just big runs.  Despite his funky mechanics*, he put up four 300 yard passing games, and delivered several key touchdown passes to help Nebraska win games.

And when he put it all together?  Then you get wow moments like the fourth quarter of the 2012 Michigan State game, where he led a comeback win with a combination of big throws and back-breaking runs – against one of the best defenses in the conference.  Or the 2010 Oklahoma State game, where Martinez threw for 300+ yards.

*Ah yes, those mechanics.  At best, they were unorthodox.  At worst, they were a horror show.  There were several deep balls where I truly believe he yelled “500!” as he released the ball.  But let’s not pretend that other Husker greats had textbook mechanics.  They had to replace the Memorial Stadium turf after the 1995 season because Tommie Frazier had bounced so many passes on it.  Scott Frost threw as if he was taught by a women’s shot put champion.   

Turnovers.  If Taylor Martinez’s performances were a coin that was flipped before every snap, one side of that coin would say “wow”.  What would the other side say?  I’m not sure, but it is probably an expletive uttered by fans after another Martinez turnover.

Without sugar-coating it, Martinez was a turnover machine, leading the nation in fumbles and fumbles lost in 2011 and 2012.  He regularly threw ill-advised passes into double coverage or over his intended receiver.  Often these turnovers were momentum killing soul crushers that put the defense in a bind, or contributed to blow out losses.  Making matters worse, many of them appeared as if they could have been prevented with better decision-making.  Martinez did not discriminate in who he turned it over to (FCS teams, non conference foes, division rivals, etc.), but it always felt like most of his turnovers came in crucial moments of games against ranked opponents.

Records.  Simply put, Taylor Martinez owns just about every offensive record that a quarterback can own.  Among the big ones:  career starts at QB, Total Offense, Passing Yards, Touchdown Passes, Rush Yards by a QB, and multiple testing records for quarterbacks.

From a purely statistical standpoint, Taylor Martinez may be the greatest QB Nebraska has known.  And as great as his stats are, it is scary to imagine the numbers he could have put up had he been healthy throughout his career.

Injured.  Of the 44 games that Taylor Martinez played at Nebraska, how many did he play at 100% health?  At 90%?  Below 75%?  Martinez, when healthy, was an amazingly dynamic player – a legitimate threat to score from anywhere on the field.  But when injured, Martinez struggled to be an average QB.  Without the healthy legs, he had to rely on his arm (and decision-making skills) to lead Nebraska to victory.  Without the threat of him running, defenses were free to focus on the pass, and often confused him with blitzes and different coverages.

To be sure, Martinez is a tough kid.  He absorbed a ton of hits over his career and did not miss a meaningful snap in the 2012 season.  Even when he was hurt, he wanted to continue playing – even if it was detrimental to the team.  Part of the blame falls on Martinez for being too proud/stubborn/foolish to try to play when he was injured.  But I feel the majority of the blame falls on the coaching staff for a) not recognizing their injured QB was becoming a liability, and b) not having a capable backup on the roster.  Seriously, as poorly as Martinez played in some of the games where he was hurt, was the option on the bench (Brion Carnes, Ron Kellogg III, Cody Green, etc.) going to be any better?

Mercurial.  This may be my favorite on this list.  Why?  Name another athlete – college or pro, football or any other sport – who is widely described as “mercurial”.  In doing a search for a good definition of “mercurial”, I came across the following description:  “cool and willful at one moment, utterly fragile the next.”  I don’t know Martinez at all, so it’s not fair for me to comment on the true depths of his personality.  However, given how often that word appears in articles about him, one can assume that the media who covered him for four years certainly felt that way.

To be sure, Taylor’s personality is a big part of his narrative.  He comes across as quiet and reserved, and appears as if he doesn’t trust people outside of his circle.  Most of us see truth in Tunnel Walk of Shame’s depiction of Martinez as a childlike Bro:  yelling “YOLO” while getting excited over bounce houses and coloring books.  Simply put, his personality doesn’t mesh with what we expect from a starting quarterback.  Martinez comes across as a passive Type B in a position that seems to require an assertive Type A.  While he could be as bold and confident as any QB, his claims (stated goals of a national championship and a 70% completion percentage) were often met with rolled eyes.

While nobody will argue that Taylor’s personality is wired differently than any other Husker QB, I think the media and fans own a part of this too.  As a redshirt freshman, he was clearly not ready for the fishbowl of being Nebraska’s starter, nor the spotlight brought on by his immediate success.  However, the fan and media criticism for not being a vocal leader, not speaking at press conferences, and having every syllable of every quote parsed and analyzed to death surely did not help his comfort or trust with the media and fans.

Polarizing.  Taylor Martinez may very well be the most polarizing figure in Nebraska football history.  Ask ten people their opinion on Martinez and my guess is most will be at one extreme (“he’s great”) or the other (“he sucks”) with very few in the middle.  As Martinez was rewriting the career record book in 2012, there were fans wondering why his backups were not starting instead of him.  At the 2013 fan day, a female fan brought a life-sized cutout of Martinez for him to sgin.

Here is what I find most telling:  In the almost 40 years that I have cheered for this team, I cannot remember another time where friends, family, fans, and random other day-to-day contacts were truly excited over a Nebraska player suffering an injury.  I don’t think there was a lot of joy that Taylor Martinez (person) was injured. but I have heard and felt unmistakable joy that Taylor Martinez (quarterback) may never take another snap.  Name another Husker player who got the same treatment?

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You may notice there is one key word that does not equate into Martinez’s legacy definition:  Rings.  For all of his statistical greatness, his longevity, his 40+ starts under center, Taylor Martinez will leave Nebraska without any championship rings*

*While Nebraska may have ordered rings for the various division championships Martinez was involved with (2010 Big XII North, 2012 Big Ten Legends) not even the most fervent of Martinez supporters would claim those match the rings earned for conference or national championships.  

And this is the big hole in Taylor Martinez’s legacy –  the strikeout pitch for any debate over where Martinez ranks in the pantheon of great Husker QBs – he has zero conference championships (0-2 in title games) and zero bowl wins (0-3) on his resume.  I will point out that the full weight of those losses is not on #3’s shoulders (unless Martinez was somehow responsible for failing to stop Melvin Gordon on the jet sweep) while acknowledging that Martinez was at best inconsistent when the lights were the brightest.

*   *   *

So as he prepares to enter Memorial Stadium for the final time on Friday’s Senior Day, what is the legacy of Taylor Martinez?  How will we remember him?

My son’s first Husker jersey has #3 on it.  He is too young to remember Martinez, so here is how I’ll describe Martinez to him when he is older:  Whenever Taylor Martinez took a snap, the odds were good that the other team’s offense would soon be on the field – either because he scored from 70 yards or because he turned it over.

Personally, I found that risk/reward proposition exciting.  I didn’t always agree with his decision-making process or the sometimes haphazard way he protected the ball.  But often it was worth it for the results – the “did you see that?” moments that likely kept defensive coordinators up all night.

The other stuff?  His aloof appearance, his perceived selfishness, not speaking to the media after losses. and all of the other off the field stuff?  All in all, it didn’t bother me.  Sure, I think we would all like to have seen a personable, engaging, and selfless leader who is as quick to take the blame as he is to deflect praise.  But admit it:  if Martinez’s record in championships and bowls is 4-1 instead of 0-5, a lot less of us would care about the type of person/teammate we perceive him to be.

As Taylor Martinez comes out of the tunnel one last time.  I will stand and applaud a man who gave everything he had to Nebraska, and helped this team win games they should have lost.  

I know it won’t be as easy for some of you, but I hope that you can join m in cheering for this Husker legend (sorry, the stats and records say he is a legend).

If it helps, you can cheer the fact that it will be the last time you see him in a Nebraska jersey.

The Most Popular Guy on the Team

Frankie London.
Eric Crouch.
Bobby Newcombe.
Tommie Frazier.
Mike Stuntz.
Joe Dailey.
Turner Gill.
Joe Ganz.
Cody Green.
Brion Carnes.

What do all of the above have in common? At one point in their career, they were the most popular player in the state:  Nebraska’s backup quarterback.

After his impressive debut in Nebraska’s 59-20 romp over South Dakota State, we added a new name to this storied list: Tommy Armstrong, Jr..  Time will tell if he follows the career path of Frazier, Crouch, and Gill or that of London, Stuntz, or Carnes.

To hear and read the collective opinions of our fans, Tommy Armstrong is destined to be a four-year starter, whose many talents will lead Nebraska back to glory.  Some have noted the similarities in circumstances with Tommy Armstrong’s first starts and those of Tommie Frazier and see a similar career path.

While some of the shine came off the Armstrong apple with his ugly performance at Purdue (6-18, 43 yards, 3 INT), many Husker fans are still very high on him.  And with good reason – Armstrong has lots of talent, athleticism, and potential.  But is he the clear choice to lead this team forward?

Martinez’s injured toe has healed enough that he will take some snaps against Minnesota.  A fully healthy Martinez is, in my opinion, the clear and obvious choice.  Heck, Martinez at 80% health may prove to be better for the offense than Armstrong.  Ron Kellogg III might channel some of the career backup magic that his position coach Joe Ganz had, and take control of the starting job.  We just don’t know.

Let me be clear:  I mean no disrespect to Armstrong – from what I have seen, I’ve been impressed with his talent, and am very optimistic about his future. I am just cautious about going all-in on a redshirt freshman who has not faced an opponent more talented than Illinois.  After so many years of hearing the recruitniks hype up every QB to step on campus, as well as the general fan obsession with the #2 QB, I’m a little leery of diving head first into Armstrong Mania.

The view from the backup QB pedestal

Consider two case studies from the Pelini era:

Cody Green was a much-hyped recruit, and fans wanted him to be the starting QB as soon as he got on campus.  He had a very unspectacular career at NU and transferred out.

Joe Ganz was a rather unheralded recruit, and despite the struggles of Sam Keller, not too many fans were clamoring for Ganz to start – until the offense started lighting up the scoreboard and record book under his leadership.

I’ll say it again so I’m clear:  I hope Tommy Armstrong is successful – just like I hope every Nebraska player is successful.  By and large, I am supportive of any player who I feel can help Nebraska win….

Which leads us to Taylor Martinez.

I just don’t understand the reaction I’ve seen from some of our fans.  Many were thrilled that somebody else was starting the last three games.  They were happy that he was hurt.  They hope he never sees the field again.  They truly believe that Nebraska’s best chance to win the division and conference title is with a redshirt freshman instead of a four year starter.

I know that many people within the fan base have issues with Martinez – both factual (he led the nation in fumbles) and emotional (he “quit” on the team following that A&M game).  But that does not mean we should take joy in his pain, or disparage a player who has done a lot of good things at Nebraska.

I get it:  some fans will never like or appreciate Taylor.  Heck, if you read some of my previous work, you’ll notice that I’ve been rather critical of him over the years as well.  But my criticism is usually constructive and never personal.  And I feel that I recognize the good things he does and the growth he’s made.  I don’t think many of his bashers can say that.

Has he improved over his four seasons?  Absolutely, and without a doubt.

Is he an NFL-caliber quarterback?  Heavens no.  (Of course, no NU quarterback has been NFL worthy since Brook Berringer passed away, but that’s another topic for another day).

But there is a difference between pointing out the things a person does not do well, and being rude and disrespectful. Saying I use too many run-on sentences and love bullet points too much is constructive (and honest). Saying that I suck, don’t know what I’m talking about, and would be easily replaced by a drunken chimpanzee with a keyboard is rude (and insulting to the chimp).

What’s my point with all of this?  I guess if I could have you take away anything from this rant, it would be that you can be excited for Armstrong’s potential without tearing down another Husker.

*Author’s note: The original framework of this post was started back in 2011 after Nebraska lost at Wisconsin, sparking calls from fans, message boards, and the media that it was time to bench Martinez in favor of Brion Carnes.

It just goes to show that some things never change. 

Bo vs. Tommie

In the wake of Nebraska’s ugly 41 – 21 collapse to UCLA, lots of strong statements and opinions were issued by fans, media, and alumni.  As one might suspect, most of these opinions were not very positive towards Bo Pelini and his coaching staff.

But among the millions of opinions spoken, printed, or (in this case) tweeted, one stands out:

“After letting it sink in for about 4 hours I still struggling. It’s time to get rid of the defensive play caller, the Dc, lb dl and db coaches. I hate saying this but this crap is getting old. How in the hell do you not make adjustments or put your players in the position to compete? If this is what is going to happen for the remainder of the season, count me out. I don’t care if we lose a game but the way we are losing is just not what #Nebraska fans deserve. I have fought, bled, and cried over this program. I didn’t do all that for the program to become what it has today. Time for change!”

Those are strong words from anybody, but they didn’t come from Joe Fan.  They came from Tommie Frazier – one of the greatest players in college football history.  Quarterback of the 1994 and 1995 National Championship teams.  Heisman Trophy runner-up*.  College Football Hall of Famer.  Short of Tom Osborne, there are not too many people who would get a similar reaction with these remarks.

*That still hurts to type.  Tommie was robbed.  You know it.  I know it.  Eddie George knows it.

To make matters worse, Tommie’s remarks came on the same day he was honored at halftime for his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Today in his weekly press conference, Bo Pelini was asked to respond to Frazier’s tweet.  Pelini said he had not seen the tweet, but was aware of it.  Here is his response:

“We have a staff, players and administration — everybody here — who’s busting their butt to do everything we can to win football games and to do everything we can for student-athletes. Since I came back here, I’ve embraced the former players, and if he feels like that, so be it. We don’t need him. That’s a shame. Until you’ve sat in this seat — until you’ve sat and done it — anybody can have an opinion. Anybody can do that. It’s easy to point fingers and stand outside and throw stones. I take it for what it is.”

Ouch.  This is one of those classic situations where nobody is right and everybody is wrong.  Let’s start with Bo.

Obviously, the money quote:  “if he feels like that, so be it.  We don’t need him” is what sticks out from Pelini’s response, and it will soon join “gravitate towards mediocrity” in the pantheon of ugly Husker quotes.

In print (or pixels) it looks horrible:  a hot-head coach coming off of another blowout loss disrespecting a legendary player.  But, the words don’t tell the whole story.

Watch Bo saying the full quote.  You’ll notice that he certainly appears to be speaking off the cuff, and in my opinion, looks to be searching for the right words to say.  You’ll also notice a lot of pauses, “um”s, and “you know”s in those 60 seconds.  His tone and body language is submissive and dismissive; not combative.  Reading those words, it is easy to picture Angry Bo spewing spittle, but the video tells a different story.

But regardless of tone, Bo made a big blunder today.  He was unprepared.

Surely Bo (or somebody within the University’s media relations team) should have known a question about Frazier’s tweet would come.  Of course it would.  The media might not lead with it, but everybody knew it was going to come up.

This is complicated by the fact that Bo is not an eloquent speaker.  His stammering, pausing response was awkward on its own before he dropped the “we don’t need him” bomb.  And that is a failure on Bo’s part.  He needed to be ready for the question, and have a prepared, diplomatic response teed up.  I’ll let Pelini’s critics do what they will with another documented case of failing to be prepared.

I truly believe “we don’t need him” was not what Bo intended to say.  But since he was unprepared and shooting from the hip, that is what we got.  That is on Bo.

My hope is that Bo’s words are not taken as a blanket statement that past players aren’t welcome, or that negative opinions should not be shared.  We saw enough of that garbage during the Pedersen/Callahan regime, and nobody wants to go back to that time.

But Tommie Frazier is not above criticism in this matter.

First off, Tommie Frazier has every right to say or tweet whatever he feels, whenever he wants.  Period.

And yet…he also needs to consider the power the name “Tommie Frazier” has, and how negative comments about the program – even those that could be considered reactionary just a few hours after an ugly loss – may impact his reputation and legacy.

My guess is Tommie Frazier wants to be remembered as one of the greatest players in college football history, not as an all-time great who trashed the coaching staff of his alma mater on social media.  As great as Frazier was, he is fortunate to have played in an era before social media*.

*Although one wonders what Jerry Tagge might have tweeted after the 1992 loss at Iowa State…

Does Tommie’s name and legacy mean that he shouldn’t be vocal with his opinion?  Absolutely not.  But Frazier needs to have both the knowledge and responsibility to understand that his words carry much more weight than almost all former players or coaches.  When is outspoken like this, it gets noticed. Nationally.  For someone who “fought, bled, and cried” over the program, there is a lot of opportunity to do damage of your own.

I’ve seen some folks implying that Frazier’s bold words were intended solely to promote his weekly analysis web-cast.   The last two sentences of his original tweet (“I will comment about the offense this week on Tommie’s X’s and O’s. Trust me you don’t want to miss it.”) could certainly make that point, but I don’t buy it.  One of the things Frazier is revered for is his competitive spirit and will to win.  While he wouldn’t be the first person to take a strong opinion to drive web traffic (*ahem*), I do not believe that was Frazier’s motivation.  If it is, then I’d direct Mr. Frazier to the previous paragraph.

I also disagree with the notion that Frazier shouldn’t weigh in on Nebraska’s coaches because of his own coaching career (fired as an assistant at Baylor; 3-17 as head coach as NAIA Doane College).  Yes, by many accounts, Tommie was a lousy coach, but that doesn’t take away his right to an opinion.  Let’s face it:  if a strong coaching resume was a prerequisite for criticizing football coaches, thousands of message boards, media outlets, and blogs (*ahem*) would be out of business.

So how should have this whole thing have been handled?

In a perfect world,  Pelini and Frazier handle it offline.  Bo and the football operations staff need to appreciate how big of a shadow Tommie Frazier casts in this state.  Every week, there are still hundreds of #15 jerseys in the stands – and those people didn’t buy them because of Steve Octavien, Beau Davis, Willie Miller, or any of the other guys to wear #15 in the last 20 years.

Over the weekend, Bo should have talked to Tommie (or at least reached out) to address Tommie’s concerns privately.  Then, during the weekly press conference, say something to the effect of this:

“Given his stature within our program’s history, I have personally reached out to Tommie to discuss his concerns regarding our performance on Saturday, as well as the program’s direction.  We agree Saturday’s game did not turn out in a way that either of us wanted, and nobody has lost more sleep over that than me.  I respect Tommie Frazier as a player, as a member of the Nebraska Football family, and especially as a person.  However, I will not make coaching or personnel decisions based upon input from those outside of our day-to-day operations.”

Tommie gets his concern addressed.  Pelini shows respect for a Husker legend, addresses the issue, but firmly states that he’s in control.

Tommie has responded to Pelini with the following:  “He’s right, he doesn’t need me. I’m not the answer but he needs someone to help define success for this program. Nebraska fans deserve more.”

I hope this is the end of it – that Pelini and his team go into the their bunker and try to fix their weaknesses before conference play begins, and Frazier continues to do what he does, albeit with some increased tension between him and the program.

I definitely hope we can avoid this from skidding into a worst case scenario:  An increasingly ugly war of words via social media that leads to Tommie Frazier becoming the de facto face of the Fire Pelini contingent.  Former players, alumni, and fans become alienated, creating tension that further splits a divided fan base, while tarnishing the reputation of one of the greatest players in school history.

Greatest Huskers, by the numbers: Introduction

During the first couple of games every year, I always carry a folded up roster in my pocket – usually given to me by some political campaign – so I know who the new contributors, backups, and random special teams guys are.  By the third or fourth game of the season, you can tell me a number and I can tell you that player’s name.  Over time (I’ve been to almost every home game since 1993), a lot of names and numbers are stuck in my head.

This glut of numbers can be a challenge as I try to adjust my brain to seeing one of NU’s “signature” numbers – 15 for example – being worn by a fullback (Willie Miller), a linebacker (Steve Octavian), or a cornerback (Alfonzo Dennard).  It also makes me think about which player is the best to ever wear a certain number.

In effort to clear some of these numbers out of my brain (and to kill some time until the season starts) I’ve decided to take on my own countdown project – the 100 greatest Huskers of the last 50 years.

There are dozens of lists of top players, top teams, and the like, so I’m going with a slightly different spin:  My list of greatest Huskers will be the greatest to wear each uniform number, 1-99, from the first Bob Devaney team (1962) through the 2012 season – the first 50 years of the sellout streak.

Obviously, some of these are pretty easy.  (Spoiler Alert:  Tommie Frazier is the best to ever wear the #15, and the smart money says the 16 other Husker legends whose names appear on the North Stadium skyboxes will make the list too).

On the flip side, there are some numbers with a very pedestrian history.  Take #49, for example.  Who would you name as the best player to ever wear #49?  Heck, I’ll tip my cap if you can name more than two players to wear #49 in the last 50 years without turning to the internet or old media guides.  (Stay tuned to see who I picked).

How will I decide who is best?  There is no good way to objectively compare an offensive player, a Blackshirt, and a kicker who all wore the same number, so I’m loosely using the following:

  • Individual awards and recognition.  Specifically:  National award finalist, first team All-American or All-Conference.  These things played a big role, but they were not an absolute end-all.
  • Team success.  I was more likely to consider a guy from one of the National Championship teams than a guy from the late Solich/Callahan years.  That’s no disrespect to some of those guys, but I think a standout on a 12-0 team tends to be a better player than a standout on a 7-7 team.
  • Only their Nebraska playing career.  For the purposes of this list, what a player did during their Nebraska playing career matters more than what they did in the NFL or elsewhere.  So while Scott Shanle has had a good NFL career, I felt there was a better person to recognize for the #43 jersey at Nebraska.  Players who became coaches (Frank Solich, Turner Gill, Barney Cotton, Barry Alvarez, etc.) were considered solely for their playing days, not for their coaching careers.
  • My own experiences and biases.  Let’s face it, every list like this is subjective and probably a little slanted.  I’ll own my primary weakness up front:  my earliest Husker memories are from 1981 or 1982, so it is likely that I’m not going to give somebody from the Devaney or early Osborne years the credit they deserve.  (Let me know where I’ve gone wrong in the comments).  I’m also pretty biased around the teams from my college days (1993 – 1997) as I had the great privilege of being in school for one of the greatest runs in college football history.

In addition to the best for each number, I’ll also select a personal favorite.  This person probably won’t be a star, but will likely be somebody who I enjoyed watching, participated in a memorable play, or some other completely random – and only relevant to me – reason.  As you can guess, these players will mostly be from the last 25 years.

Sound like fun?  Okay, before we get started, let’s quickly cover my methodology and ground rules:

  • I came up with this list by copying old rosters from and pasting them into a spreadsheet.  I then added in the All-America, All-Conference, and major award lists also found on  Since this method meant a player could appear 4-5 times, I flushed out the duplicates to get my starting point – a little over 2,000 players in all.
  • If a player changed numbers at some point in his career, I only considered him for the number worn at the end of his career.  For example, Jason Peter wore #95 for his first three years, but switched to #55 for his senior season.  Since Peter was an All-American wearing the double nickel, that is where I’ll consider him.  The same goes for other notable changes, including:  Jammal Lord (#5, from #10), Marlon Lucky (#5, from #20), and Bob Brown (#64, from #61).
  • Along those same lines, the 2005 roster has Ndamukong Suh listed as #77.  While Suh ended up being better than any other player to don the #77 jersey, he’s only making the list at #93.

Finally, let’s recap the distinction between a retired number and a retired jersey, as Nebraska has both.  A retired number is just that – a number that is no longer issued to any player.  There are three numbers currently retired at Nebraska (in order of retirement):

60 – Tom Novak.  Nobody has worn #60 since 1949.
20 – Johnny Rodgers.  Originally, the Jet’s number was retired after the 1972 season, but Johnny allowed his son Terry to wear it during his NU career (1986-1990).  The number went back on the shelf until 1995, when it was in regular circulation until it was re-retired in 2009.  (Random trivia:  Jase Dean and Adi Kunalic are the last two Huskers to wear the #20 jersey in 2008).
64 – Bob Brown.  His number stayed in circulation until it was retired in 2004.  (Random trivia:  Kurt Mann was the last Husker to wear #64).

In addition, Nebraska also has 17 “retired jerseys”.  Basically, this is a way for NU to honor Huskers who win major awards (Heisman, Outland, etc.) but still keep the number available for active players.  Otherwise, there would not be enough numbers for offensive linemen, as a good chunk of the seventies (71, 72, 75, 79) would be on the shelf.  Some of these numbers (specifically 30, 50, 71, and 79) were not issued for 10 or more years, but all have been back in circulation since the mid 1990s.

In addition to Novak, Rodgers, and Brown, whose jerseys are retired along with their numbers, here are the other 14 Huskers with a retired jersey:

  • 7 – Eric Crouch
  • 15 – Tommie Frazier
  • 30 – Mike Rozier
  • 34 – Trev Alberts
  • 50 – Dave Rimington
  • 54 – Dominic Raiola
  • 67 – Aaron Taylor
  • 71 – Dean Steinkuhler
  • 72 – Zach Wiegert
  • 75 – Larry Jacobson
  • 75 – Will Shields
  • 79 – Rich Glover
  • 93 – Ndamukong Suh
  • 98 – Grant Wistrom

So with all of the housekeeping out of the way, let’s get to it:

Greatest Huskers: 99 – 90

Greatest Huskers:  89 – 80

Greatest Huskers:  79 – 70

Greatest Huskers:  69 – 60

Greatest Huskers:  59 – 50

Greatest Huskers:  49 – 40

Greatest Huskers:  39 – 30

Greatest Huskers:  29 – 20

Greatest Huskers:  19 – 10

Greatest Huskers:  9 – 1

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